We tend to value being realistic and yet for many of us, this only applies to positive thinking. We readily ponder worst-case scenarios, draft elaborate backup plans, and run through step-by-step what we would do if things went miserably wrong.
We ruin happy moments by worrying about when and how they will end. We doubt we have what it takes to reach our dreams and ruminate on all of the reasons we’ll never be good enough in place of looking for the reasons we already are.
We are so quick to burst our bubbles — to tell ourselves we shouldn’t get our hopes up because what goes up must come down — and in the name of being realistic, we often end up exaggerating the bad and erasing the good from our lives.
In psychology, overgeneralization describes a cognitive distortion that leads us to make sweeping and often negative conclusions about our lives and ourselves based on limited experience. For example, maybe you apply for a job and you never hear back, leading you to think you are unemployable and will never land work.
Maybe you have a falling out with a friend and then assume no one likes you, or you disagree with someone on one thing and conclude you must have no common ground.
Overgeneralizing can lead us to believe things such as that no one cares about us or that if we suffer one misfortune then we must be unlucky and due to face unfair circumstances all of our lives. We might think that if the person we like doesn’t reciprocate then we are destined to end up alone, or that if we face one rejection we are inherently unworthy of acceptance.
Overgeneralizing is a common example of how our thoughts can mislead us and, while many of us worry about setting the bar too high, the real problem is that we often set it too low. The good news is we can change the way we think; we have the authority and the ability to assess and audit our thoughts.
We might not be able to control what thoughts enter our minds, but we can choose which ones we give our energy. We can choose which ones we agree with and over time we can train our minds to flip the paradigm, to assume the best instead of expecting the…